Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Some books I like ... (2)

Another round of books we like ... and can return to several times.

I absolutely love Jane Austen's PERSUASION and have re-read it several times and no doubt will again. PRIDE & PREJUDICE is a witty comedy of manners (and there is that great BBC version of it), SENSE & SENSIBILITY was a nice discovery too as we follow the Dashwood girls in and out of love (and we have Ang Lee's perfect film as scripted by Emma Thompson, and the rather nice recent TV version) - I have not felt the urge though to bother with EMMA or NORTHANGER ABBEY, while MANSFIELD PARK was rather a chore. It is PERSUASION though that I want to read and re-read. For one thing it is perfectly romantic as the thwarted lovers slowly begin to rediscover each other, and Anne Elliott is the most charming and wise Austen heroine, compared to her family and the interfering Aunt, Lady Russell. Anne is only 28 but is practically an old maid as she missed her chance with the dashing Captain 8 years previously when she was persuaded to give him up as he had no fortune. Captain Wentworth too is the perfect hero, back from the navy, his fortune made - no wonder those silly Musgrove girls throw themselves at him, as we travel from Uppercross to Lyme Regis and its famous cobb, and high society in Bath. All the 3 adaptations create their own endings. Austen actually wrote two in her book, but neither is cinematic, so in the films we have Anne chasing all over Bath to catch up with the Captain, and the couple kissing! I prefer the 1995 BBC version which is a real film, but the recent one is fine too. The book though is a lasting pleasure. See Austen label for reviews of the films of her books.

THE TAKEOVER by Muriel Spark, 1979. As dazzling as her other gems like THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, MEMENTO MORI, THE ABBESS OF CREWE. The time is the late Seventies, the place is Italy, particularly the enchanted lake at Nemi, southeast of Rome, where the Temple of Diana once stood. The people form an extraordinary cast chasing love (or sex) and money, with the goddess-like American heiress Maggie at the center, justly famed for her beauty, her wealth, and the steeliness of her will - like her namesake, Maggie Thatcher. 
To many, as to her old confidant, Hubert Mallindaine, Maggie is ever-tempting target for takeover. Indeed he squats in one of Maggie's houses, selling off her paintings and furniture and seeking to set up the cult of the ancestress he claims, Diana herself, while Maggie plots to oust him. An assortment of jewel thieves, counterfeiters, art smugglers, adulterers, gay secretaries, spongers, and fanatics, plus the international confidence man Coco de Renault, after nothing less than her entire fortune, seek to exploit Maggie. There is also Lauro, the petulant Italian waiter/gigolo/general all-rounder who has slept with almost everyone in the book for his own gain .... It is a familiar Spark scenario - with riches, drinks, crooked servants, poetic quotations, domestic intrigue, and double-edged jokes about Catholicism. It is about being so wealthy that they can no longer afford to insure their possessions, and attempt to foil their predators - by hiding their jewels in hot water bottles, by making false floors to false kitchens, by burying their ill-gotten gains in their mothers' well-tended graves. Maggie though scores the last word.  It is all sheer delight. As witty as her other books! Like Iris Murdoch's THE BELL (or almost any Murdoch) it would make a perfect film or tv series. (To review soon: the film of Murdoch's A SEVERED HEAD).

THE COUNTRY GIRLS by Edna O'Brien. The first of Edna O'Brien's 24 novels, about Cait and Baba and their adventures in '50s Ireland, in the country and at school and the loneliness and excitement of  living and surviving on their wits and their charms in Dublin (as continued in THE LONELY GIRL). Caithleen is a bookish, introspective Catholic girl who falls for an older and married Protestant man. 
This formed the basis of the 1964 film THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, which I like a lot, as per other items on it here. We follow the doomed romance of Cait and Eugene, and it ends with the girls catching that ferry to London - a very nostalgic moment for those who have also done that journey. Edna has now published her own memoir COUNTRY GIRL, the fascinating real story of her life which she used for her fiction. More on the films of O'Brien books at O'Brien / Ireland labels.

FIRE FROM HEAVEN / THE PERSIAN BOY. Mary Renault's much admired novels about Alexander The Great repay several visits as she totally conjures up that ancient world of mysterious kingdoms and rites as the boy Alexander mesmerises everybody as he grows up to claim his inheritance and become the ruler of the known world. The first volume FIRE FROM HEAVEN is terrific on his childhood with his lifelong friend Hephaestion, and his mysterious mother Olympias and father Philip. THE PERSIAN BOY continues the story as Alexander's men follow him to the ends of the known world, when it all comes tumbling down in Babylon (where a third novel FUNERAL GAMES is set). 
The Boy is the Persian eunuch Bagoas who becomes another of Alexander's lovers and we see it all though his eyes. It is a stunning feat of imagination. There are other Alexander fictions but these are the ones for me. You do need though to be interested in Alexander and that ancient world to really enjoy these. I have other Alexander books like those by Plutarch and expert historian Robin Lane Fox, but Renault (1905-1983) too was highly acclaimed in her time for her historical novels set in Greece, like THE KING MUST DIE, THE CHARIOTEER, often with gay themes, a novelty back then in the '50s and '60s - Like Patricia Highsmith she was one of the first writers of her era perceived to be lesbian - Renault though had a lifelong partner. Her history of Alexander: THE NATURE OF ALEXANDER is a terrific coffee table book too, with great illustrations.

DUBLINERS - James Joyce.  Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories by James Joyce, first published in 1914. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century, and again, repay re-reading. 
The most famous story of course is THE DEAD. The stories centre on Joyce's idea of an epiphany, the moment where a character experiences self-understanding or illumination. Gabriel Conroy has such a moment when he attends a new year party with his wife Gretta, about the nature of life and death. It is really more a novella than a short story, and was lovingly filmed by veteran John Huston in 1987, his last film and testament, as we too linger at that party where Gretta hears that lament which brings back all those memories of the boy who loved her and died - as the snow falls over the living and the dead ..... as beautifully captured by Joyce's prose and Huston's film. It is perfect - I have written about it in more detail in my review of the film, Huston / Ireland labels. .

1 comment:

  1. good post

    it took me back to 12th grade english class when we had to read "The Dead"

    and i remember how my classmates and I could not make heads or tails of it